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South Africa halts AstraZeneca vaccine push over effectiveness fears

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A man wearing a face covering, walks past a logo on the street in Alberton, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.
A man wearing a face covering, walks past a logo on the street in Alberton, near Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021.   -   Copyright  Themba Hadebe/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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South Africa is temporarily suspending its COVID-19 vaccination programme after a study found that the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be effective against the new variant of the virus.

The study, carried out by the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and not yet peer-reviewed, claims that the British vaccine offers "limited protection" against moderate forms of the disease caused by the South African variant in young adults.

"It is a temporary problem. We must suspend the Astrazeneca vaccines until we resolve [it]," Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said at an online press conference on Sunday.

According to initial results, the vaccine is only 22% effective against moderate forms of the virus. No results are yet available on its effectiveness against severe forms.

Lagging behind

Lagging behind in the global vaccine race, South Africa, officially the continent's worst-hit country with more than 1.5 million cases and over 46,000 deaths, received its first shipment of a million vaccines on Monday. Delivery of 500,000 additional doses is expected in February.

All are AstraZeneca/ Oxford vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India and the first doses were intended to be given to the country's 1.2 million health workers.

"In the next four weeks, we will have Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines", said Mkhize.

Discussions with other laboratories are also underway, in particular with Moderna and the Russian vaccine manufacturer of Sputnik V, he added.

The South African minister recently announced that he had reserved 20 million doses of the Pfizer/ BioNTech vaccines.